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The Strain, episode 9: Even vampires need to fall in love

The vampire hunters are too late to save Matt.
The vampire hunters are too late to save Matt.

Every week, Todd VanDerWerff will be joined by one of Vox's many experts in subjects other than television to discuss the new vampire series The Strain. These articles are for those who have already seen that week's episode. If you are looking for a more general overview, here is our pre-air review. This week, Todd and culture writer Kelsey McKinney delve into the series' many new relationships.

The episode in one sentence: Everybody scatters to the winds, and the show tries frantically to build connections between many of the characters.

Love is in the air on this week's episode of The Strain, which mostly keeps the momentum of the last couple of episodes going by forcing some romance into the middle of the proceedings. It's not as good as last week's episode, largely because most of these characters aren't developed enough to have thoroughly convincing relationships. But it also ends with two vampires sharing the worm, if you know what we mean.

(We mean that they literally share a worm.)

Here are this week's big love matches and one promising new friendship.

Long-suffering lovers: Eph and Nora

Look: Eph and Nora are just OK as point-of-view characters. They each have had their moments, but for the most part, they pale in comparison to the supporting players. That's fine. In fact, that's often how these sorts of shows work. But on the list of things worth caring about on the show, the connection between the two is pretty low on the list.

What's interesting, ultimately, is that the two hook up after spending an entire episode dealing with the disposal of Matt's body. Matt, see, had become a vampire, before Eph and company took care of him, and in the aftermath of doing so, Eph mostly seems concerned about making sure that he finds Kelly, so his son doesn't grow up without a mother. And, look, the vampire apocalypse makes for strange bedfellows, but I'm not sure Nora really wants to be hopping into bed with this guy right now.

That said, the scenes between the two were among the more genuinely touching ones the show has mustered. That's not saying all that much, as this isn't a show known for its huge number of emotionally involving scenes, but it's something, right?

A new will-they/won't-they: Dutch and Vasiliy

In an attempt to pair off more main characters than is maybe necessary, Dutch and Vasiliy get tangled up together in tonight's episode. This decision is particularly grating because the show has, for the most part, built each of them up to be highly independent characters. Unlike Nora and Eph, who dispose of bodies together (a real recipe for love), Dutch and Vasiliy's first team-up — and first meeting ever — happened in last week's gas station charade.

Dutch is a master coder who shut down the internet and Vasily is an exterminator turned vampire hunter. The pairing could work nicely if the two had any common ground to relate on, but the potential for romance here seems to hinge entirely on Vasiliy killing a vampire for Dutch and her dependence on him. At one point during the episode, Dutch even says to him not to expect to kiss her, which is fine except that it is obvious that the writers seem to intend to change her mind.

It doesn't seem like Dutch wants to date Vasiliy and she shouldn't have to just so that everyone on the show can pair up. It isn't believable anyway.

The Strain

Setrakian (David Bradley, left) cares for young Zack (Ben Hyland). (FX)

New BFFs: Setrakian and Zack

Abraham Setrakian is basically the only person who knows what's going on. He calls the vampires what they are and knows how to kill them. He's also easily the least emotional of the characters so far, which is why his pairing with Zack, Eph, and Kelly's son works so well.

Zack opens this episode at home alone with Matt, who has turned into a vampire and promptly tries to kill him. This is a traumatic scene for Zack, as you'd expect, and he's somewhat unexpectedly comforted by Setrakian, who himself went through major trauma at a very young age. Their friendship is believable, because they are both slight outsiders to the rest of the characters, but it also could serve as a helpful plot point for the show. By talking to Zack, Setrakian can explain subtle aspects of the show to the audience with more precision, without it feeling like the show is talking down to its viewers. Kids are perfect receptacles for exposition.

Former lovers: Kelly and Matt (RIP)

Kelly's disappeared as the episode begins, which is probably good, as her boyfriend has succumbed to the vampire virus. (Presumably, he was infected at work during the eclipse a few weeks ago.) It's actually kind of funny how much the show has gone out of its way to make Matt this demonized figure in the characters' lives. Yes, he's the man who's with Eph's wife as the show begins, which means he's in a natural position of opposition, but the show did basically nothing to explain who he was beyond "obstacle."

That makes it a little disappointing that he was just turned into a vampire for the other characters to kill. Yes, the disposal of his body allowed for some nice moments, but it would have been good to get to know Matt at all, beyond simply understanding that he's the guy standing in the way of Eph and Kelly getting back together.

Former BFFs: Gus and Felix (RIP)

It's been a couple of weeks since we saw Gus, but Felix's metamorphosis into a vampire has apparently proceeded apace. (One thing that doesn't quite track on this show is why it takes so long for some people to become vamps yet seems to happen very quickly for others. It would be nice to get explanation on this.) The friendship between the two was pretty obviously headed to this point from the moment Felix was introduced, but that doesn't make it any less painful to watch as Gus has to kill his friend — who is no longer his friend.

As a bonus, the show is getting a real flair for putting characters in danger in enclosed spaces and putting Felix in with a bunch of other characters being moved from one prison to another in the back of a van is a neat bit of business. Felix was another character who was obvious vampire fodder from the first, but at least he went out in style.

Man and god: Eichorst and the Master

This episode is worth it just for the final scene, where a broken Eichorst (in flashback) is finally made a vampire after all of his service to the Master. We were probably supposed to get a huge charge out of seeing the Master's face for the first time, but a) he had just another vampire face and b) the character hasn't been around all that often, meaning it's hard to get too excited about him.

But there was a real, religious fervor to the sequence where the Master slit open Eichorst's wrist, then cut open his own, allowing a long, terrifying worm to slide out of his decrepit bloodstream and into Eichorst's still-human one. The best moments in this show have an almost terrified awe of the vampires, and this was definitely one of those. The hushed reverence Eichorst had for the Master did far more to make him an interesting villain than any discussion of his secret backstory could.

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